Personal Films
Chapter 21

Though somewhat primitive by today’s standards, this 1977 student film is historically significant for a couple of reasons: Firstly it landed me my first couple of jobs in Hollywood, introducing me to people who remain friends to this day. Secondly it was the first time the Slit-Scan process was used in a student production. What is the Slit-Scan process? Although there were precursors of the technique in early experimental films in the 1940s and 50s, it surged to prominence for its spectacular use in the “stargate corridor” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” in 1968. This film was as seminal an influence on me as it was for many other film makers.

Slit-Scan generally involved opening the shutter of a motion picture film camera and moving the camera toward a back-lit piece of art in order to paint an image on a frame of film over the course of a time exposure. Once the camera reached the end of its track, the shutter closed, and the camera was reset for the next frame. For “2001: A Space Odyssey” this process did not involve digital computers. Nor were computers involved in the original production of this film, which was entirely hand-crafted on 16mm film.

I was taking an advanced animation class at USC and, having been studying the production of 2001 I knew that Doug Trumbull and company had begun experiments applying the slit scan technique to depicting an “alien city made of light” for the ending of the film. A single still frame of a test image was published in some of the literature. Ultimately the production of 2001 ran out of time and money and the city of light sequence was abandoned.

The concept intrigued me, however, and I wondered about carrying the concept of a “city of light” forward for my class project. Also, upon reflecting that Kubrick’s 2001 embraced essentially religious themes I remembered literary depiction of another city of light found in the book of Revelation.

So I set out to adapt the last half of the 21st chapter of the book of Revelation as my graphical film project.

Unfortunately the technology that I believed I needed for slit-scan effects didn’t quite exist in the USC animation department in 1976. I realized, fortunately, that much of it actually did exist in the form of our Oxberry animation stand. The only thing that was missing was the ability to open the camera’s shutter at the moment the camera crane began a downward movement and to close the shutter when the camera reached a mechanical stop. This could be done, I felt, through the installation of relatively simple mechanical switches in the system.I proposed this mechanical alteration of the school’s equipment to my instructor, Gene Coe.

Incredibly he actually bought into my insane concept and contacted John Huber, the Oxberry technician who maintained all the the animation cameras in town. Miraculously, Huber also bought into the idea and ultimately modified the camera crane to achieve the results I requested for my project! And he did so quickly enough for me to produce my project within the semester. Looking back I still can’t believe all of that actually happened.

I titled the film “Chapter 21.”Another first, (for me anyway) was that this film was the first time I had ever used an airbrush, loaned to me for the film by pal Mike Nankin. (Little did I know that I would make my living for the next dozen years or so using airbrushes and slit-scan. This film was a good beginning.)

Upon completion “Chapter 21” was reasonably successful for a student film…after all it got me a job. It also did the rounds of a few film festivals, some of which even flew me out to attend as their guests.

The version of “Chapter 21” presented here is a digital restoration from the camera original A and B printing elements. Despite this ultimate source material, many many hours were required not only to repair damage from age but to restore the image to its original creative intent.

Though Chapter 21 has been long buried it now is finally seeing the light of day, and you can enjoy it looking better than anyone has seen it since it was created nearly half a century ago.